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Category: Observation

Observing Arabic SILP

by Alicia Brill

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to observe an intermediate level Arabic SILP class.  This particular instructor seemed to epitomize Graves’ book on The Energy to Teach.  Arriving to class on a gloomy Friday morning, the teacher hummed with energy – as evidenced by his smile, light in his eyes, expressive eyebrows, and so on.  While the students were called on to participate in class, the teacher had clearly built up enough of a rapport with the students that they were willing to speak and didn’t seem overtly put out by being called on.  There was a jovial atmosphere in the classroom; students were willing to try out the language, even if they didn’t always pronounce the vocabulary correctly or inflect for the proper tense.  The teacher did praise and encourage the students for their efforts, and seemed to try and put the students at ease through the use of humor, expressive facial features, body language, and more.  I felt immediately at ease in his classroom; I even tried to use my very minimal Arabic to share what my favorite fruit is (strawberry – الفراولة).  For me, learning a language is all about putting students at ease with a bit of a push for good measure.  To stretch the song a bit – I was thinking of “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down” – well maybe sugar could be you’re the affective atmosphere you cultivate in your classroom while the medicine is the push needed to make students break outside of their comfort zones a wee bit?  Anyhow, all I know is that I would follow this particular teacher halfway around the world – to Jordan – to take his Arabic class myself during the regular school year; he was that good!

Last thought, this is the video the instructor used with the class to work on fruit names in Arabic.  It’s a catchy song – was humming it all weekend – like it or not.  The teacher actually tried to have his students sing the song, but to no avail.  This might have been because the students didn’t know the actual lyrics – rather than due to not wanting to sing and/or participate.  Finally, if you do watch the video, notice that the apple was being WASHED in the video (presumably before the kids eat it) which could draw out a really good conversation about germs and bacteria, the importance of washing food, health and hygiene, etc.  Language learning is possible through even the smallest of details. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3i0ZAhhAo

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Peer coaching

by pshaw48

Reflecting on today’s discussion after the coaching demonstration, I just want to emphasise the differences between peer coaching and other kinds of observation and feedback procedures.  The key features of peer coaching are that it is descriptive (not evaluative), specific and precise (not general), constructive (not threatening), solicited (not imposed), and well-timed (not poorly timed).  Evaluations by supervisors and mentoring experiences are different: the former  in particular will always have something uncomfortable and even menacing about it.  Even the gentlest of mentors may have occasion to point out problems to the apprentice teacher.  Peer coaching, in contrast, is aimed for maximum comfort and requires the coach to limit responses and comments to specific data from the observation.  General comments are to be avoided, especially if they are negative.  We are hoping for the teacher to become aware of flaws or difficulties in the lesson and to articulate these to the coach, who will respond by confirming from the observed data.

George made some very good points today and we all need to be aware that we may find ourselves in professional situations where we do need to point out to a teacher the problems with the lesson.  However, over the course of one’s career, consistent and meaningful professional growth is only, I suggest, gained from regular interactions with a trusted colleagues as our peer coach.